私は家の鍵を失って途方にくれた。

English Translation

I was at a loss when I lost my house key.

As I understand, the phrase 途方に暮れた means for “the way to become dark.” Why, then, is the particle に instead of が?

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@ericaw Good question!
Before taking your question, let me tell you that the original Japanese sentence is grammatically broken and sounds unnatural. 鍵を失う (pron. うしなう) is incorrect because the speaker treats a key like an animated creature, a financial asset, or a sober state of mind. 鍵 is neither of the cases. It should be 鍵を失くす (pron. なくす).

途方暮れる is an idiom and cannot be replaced with 途方暮れる or any other particles.

暮れる can be used in many ways, one of which is “a person exhausted all means and is being in a terrible situation”. As you explained, 暮れる also means “to darken” like a sunset. A sunset is like a “dead end” of the day. So, I hope you now understand the nuance of “exhaustion of all means”. The subject (doer) of 途方に暮れる is the speaker, and the object of the transitive verb is “all means”. 途方暮れる doesn’t make sense because 途方 itself cannot be the doer of exhaustion.

途方 basically has two meanings: means or measurement; and multiple directions. The speaker sought all possible ways and means, and now reached the dead end. As you might already know, particle に is used for a direction or being in a certain situation/location. That’s why 途方に暮れる cannot be replaced with any other particles.

Here are example sentences of similar patterns:

メアリーは涙に暮れる日々を過ごした。= Mary led her life by crying everyday. (lit. = Mary was in a terrible situation, had no ways to escape, and her every single day ended up with tears.)

トムは難題を突きつけられて、思案に暮れた。= All Tom could do was just being lost in thought over such a difficult problem. (lit. Someone brought Tom a difficult problem, and he was bogged down by nothing else but looking for a clue for the problem.)

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